Dyslexia Scotland, Cathy Magee, Chief Executive
How does an organisation manage a genuine consultation on its strategic plan when it has only a very small staff team and around 200 volunteers spread out over the whole of Scotland? This was the challenge facing Dyslexia Scotland as it geared itself for an ambitious step up from its existing strategic plan.
Dyslexia Scotland was keen to make sure its strategy revision was done to the highest standard, supporting new ideas and opportunities. The organisation wanted the revised strategic plan to be shorter and more focused with clearer priorities. It also needed to have a strong visual element to the plan, essential for its audience.
The Chief Executive of Dyslexia Scotland, Cathy Magee, decided to engage the help of an independent facilitator to support their consultation process. Cathy approached Graeme Reekie at Wren and Greyhound who she knew had a strong focus on organisational sustainability, which is also a strategic priority for Dyslexia Scotland. Cathy also knew that Graeme’s facilitative approach was highly accessible, something which is so critical for Dyslexia Scotland.
“I liked the way Graeme worked,” said Cathy “the Lasting Difference made a lot of sense. It was very visual, it’s jargon-free and very, very clear.”
Graeme facilitated four regional events with staff and volunteers across Dyslexia Scotland and within those events he aimed to find out if people were happy with the strategic aims they already had and if there were any changes they wanted. Cathy said, “We had very good feedback from the regional sessions about Graeme’s way of facilitation. People liked the clear and visual exercises. It really did feel as if the whole process was very consultative and collaborative. We were really pleased that the people we work with, and the people who had maybe heard of us but not worked with us, had the chance to have their say in the process.”
Cathy says of Graeme’s input, “I found it very helpful that he gave prompts along the way, when you are busy with day-to-day stuff, if there are other priorities that come along there tends to be procrastination with the strategic plan! It was nice to have those gentle reminders.”
Graeme collated feedback from the regional events and from a survey and took that information to a Board Meeting and a Members’ Day which incorporated an AGM.
The changes to the strategy were unanimously agreed at the members’ day.
After a comprehensive consultation process the main changes were about how the strategy was presented and an increased emphasis on making a difference.
“Graeme and I discussed having a much more visual plan than we had had previously. He was able to send quite a few really helpful examples of visual plans from other organisations. The plan is much more visual than what we had last time. We wanted it to be something that people would read.”
A summary and different tiers allows people to go into more detail if they want to. Crucially it is a document that is now being used on a day-to-day basis. The strategy is supported by a standalone poster forming the central part of the document which is already being used in presentation and information packs. Dyslexia Scotland is finding this an extremely helpful visual which gives people an ‘at-a-glance’ look at the sorts of things that they do.
The organisation also had a chance to highlight many areas of work that hadn’t been so well known before. Sustainability has been a key element of the strategic plan at Dyslexia Scotland for a few years now. Early on the organisation recognised the importance of addressing sustainability, in relation to supporting good governance as well as funding. Sustainability for Dyslexia Scotland is also about ensuring volunteers are engaged in the processes of what they are doing, how they are consulted with and involved in planning. This helped the organisation to achieve Investing in Volunteers status and is something it can use to demonstrate its ethos to funders, inspectors and others. As Cathy said, “It is part and parcel of the way we work.”
And for the organisation this opportunity for collaboration and involvement has led to a sense of real ownership of the whole strategic plan.
“I am confident that what we have is a true reflection of what people wanted,” said Cathy, “and that there wasn’t anything significant in what people were asking us for that we weren’t able to provide”.
And what of the future? Cathy says that there are some big changes coming up for Dyslexia Scotland in the next couple of years and the Strategic Plan, with its refined aims and new graphics will support the organisation through those changes. The revised Strategic Plan, believes Cathy, will really help Dyslexia Scotland to make a lasting difference.
Stepping Stones For Families, Isobel Lawson, Chief Executive
Sustainable change is the heart of Stepping Stones for Families’ work. So when Isobel Lawson came across the Lasting Difference resource at its launch at The Gathering 2016 conference, she felt it really aligned with their organisational ethos.
The Lasting Difference resource always sits on my desk so I can easily refer to it. I really like the simplicity of the resource – it strikes just the right balance between being challenging and thorough, without being overly onerous. There are other self-evaluation resources out there for voluntary sector organisations, but what I like about the Lasting Difference is that it gives you a straightforward and easy to use framework, with the self-assessment section linking directly to the action plans.
The structure encourages you to look at different aspects of sustainability, not just funding, and this is really important. It is also very adaptable and we have used it in different ways right across our whole organisation. It has helped us to see where we are doing well and where we need to put more energy and focus.
After seeing a presentation Graeme delivered at a conference I asked him to facilitate a ‘sustainable governance’ away day for our Board. The session really focussed our discussions and helped us to reflect and challenge assumptions. Graeme’s approach to sustainability really resonated with our Board members. We got a lot out of the session and went on to use what we discussed to underpin the development of our Strategic Plan.
We also recognised that all team members have an important contribution to make to the organisation’s sustainability. So, we used the resource at our team away-day to help us develop sustainability outcomes for the organisation linked to our strategic plan. We have also included the first four ‘P’s from the resource – Participation, Partnership, Pounds & Pence, Profile – into our induction training for all new staff.
Paths For All, Frances Bain, Manager
As a funder committed to making a lasting difference to projects and communities, Frances Bain thought the resource would be a really useful and practical tool for members of the Paths for All network. She liked that it was designed specifically for those working in the voluntary sector and that it covered different aspects of sustainability.
Paths For All has worked with Graeme over the last few years to help projects in our network with different aspects of organisational development. The changing environment in health and social care makes work on sustainability really important for our network members. When I saw the Lasting Difference resource I really liked that it brought together all the different elements of sustainability and encouraged organisations to think about different ways they could take action. The approach it took is so useful and relevant to the challenges facing projects in our network. I also really like that it is a practical tool that had a step by step process for organisations to follow.
To help projects use the tool, we asked Graeme to run an event based on the resource. The workshop focused on the specific challenges faced by voluntary sector projects. That was so important – the more bespoke this work is, the better. We had great feedback from members about how useful they found the session – they felt that Graeme really understood and supported them with the issues they are facing.
We’re now thinking about how others we work with, for example, Community Path Groups, could make use of the resource.
Boys’ Brigade, Alan Hunter, Training and Development Officer
Alan Hunter discovered the toolkit at a conference on sustainability organised by the Corra Foundation. It resonated straight away, so he also took part in a subsequent half day workshop.
The Lasting Difference resource is a very interesting tool for sharing and using with colleagues.
I really like how it breaks sustainability down into 8 different elements. This structure makes it feel very manageable to use. The thought provoking questions in each element are very helpful and encourage you to think honestly about your answers.
I also like that this structure encourages you to look across the whole organisation. When I used it with colleagues, it was interesting that people thought about the different elements in different ways. The session only took a couple of hours and it generated lots of ideas. I was surprised by some of our ‘scores’ – the tools helped highlight the areas we were doing well and those which needed more thought and attention.
It can be used in different ways with different groups i.e. with volunteers, or with staff, or with a management team. For example, I used quotes from A Lasting Difference to help focus our discussions at our Office Bearers Conference. We plan to use the toolkit later in the year with our Development Team and our volunteer-led regional committee. There’s also potential to use the action planning section in future to prioritise actions within our new five year Development Plan.
Shared Care Scotland, Short Breaks Fund Manager
Shared Care Scotland worked in partnership with Graeme to create a sustainability resource for organisations who support carers, and those they care for, to access short breaks.
To help develop a bespoke product, Graeme facilitated a year-long action learning process with 21 short break providers who were funded by the Short Breaks Fund. This process helped short break providers to think about the important aspects of their work and how they could plan and take action to help their long-term sustainability. The process resulted in the publication of our sustainability guide: Sustainability: Short breaks for the long term. Our guide relates to the principles of the Wren and Greyhound Lasting Difference resource but is specifically tailored to enable organisations to explore the opportunities and challenges they face in relation to sustaining their short break services.
Starcatchers, Sasha McDougall, Business Development Manager
Sasha discovered the Lasting Difference resource at a sustainability conference organised by the CYPFEIF & ALEC fund team at the Corra Foundation. She had just joined Starcatchers and thought the resource was a really helpful tool to enable the organisation to reflect on and review the organisation’s business development activity.
I used the Lasting Difference resource to support a review of business development activity in our organisation when I came into post. Using the resource really created a clear picture of where we were as an organisation and helped us focus on our priorities for future development.
We circulated the self-assessment to all of our team and asked them to consider their work and understanding of the organisation. Following this we held a workshop, which captured team feedback. On reflection, I think it would be useful to enable staff to complete this self-assessment anonymously. From this activity, I went on to write priorities into our draft Organisational Development objectives for our new business plan, which went to our Board for approval.
We have focused on looking at Impact Measurement as the current priority and looking at how it intersects with Improvement & Innovation, Involvement and Income Generation. I developed and facilitated a team development session that outlined the principles of sustainability and then focused through the lens of impact measurement. The team identified areas where impact measurement could add value to other areas of our activity and identified priorities for moving forward.
The next stage for us is returning to developing our Impact Assessment frameworks and then looking to use other sections from the toolkit as part of organisational development – to help us create and put in place new plans and work processes for the organisation.
I really like the integrity of the resource and how it is based on the values of the voluntary sector – it feels like a ‘call to action’ for organisations! It is such a useful and practical tool for organisations who are going through a process of change – both organisation development and cultural change. It asks powerful questions that help you do a ‘reality check’ of your current situation and get clear on what your future priorities are.
Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, SDS Programme Coordinator
The SDS project at LCIL was in year three of its funding cycle so they felt it was a good time for them to consider the on-going sustainability of their work. They liked that the Lasting Difference resource looked at the different elements of sustainability and found the exit strategy section of the resource really helpful.
We really liked the way the Lasting Difference looks at the range of ways projects can take action on sustainability. We decided to attend a workshop session with Graeme based on the resource. To help us prepare for this session we filled in self-assessment section of the toolkit. This really helped focus our minds and encouraged us look at things from different angles. The course helped us to get clarity on the things we were doing well and things that we needed to give more attention to.
As our current funding cycle ends in March 2018 we decided it would be useful to have another session with Graeme, which focussed on the Exit Strategy section of the resource. This helped us to think through what our exit strategy options could be.
During the session Graeme also asked us to incorporate and apply learning from a toolkit we had developed on empowerment for lone parents. He challenged us to think about applying these principles to our project. This was another really useful way for us to think about what we needed to do to move forward, using resources we already had. From this we made a clear plan for the next steps we needed to take. We are now in the process of implementing this plan and taking action to make sure the work of the project is sustained.
Both sessions were really helpful and we’re hoping to use the resource again across LCIL as a whole, and involve our Management Team and Board.
There is so much experience and expertise in the voluntary sector and it would be great to see more being done to help share learning, expertise and resources on sustainability.
ARC Scotland, James Fletcher, Director
ARC Scotland used the toolkit at a team workshop to develop an internal strategy document, identifying priorities for the next two years. A Lasting Difference provided a good framework to consider all elements of sustainability for the organisation. ARC also adapted the tool, using selected sections to help frame and prioritise discussions. They then adopted some of the Action Plan headings within their new Strategic Priorities plan.
There is a massive need for work on sustainability. What Wren & Greyhound offer is lateral thinking on sustainability for voluntary organisations. The Lasting Difference resource is a unique quality and sustainability toolkit designed specifically for the voluntary sector – all other resources and tools available are more generic. Organisations need to be planning now for sustainability, and the toolkit challenges them to look at avenues of potential development. It’s not about turning voluntary sector organisations into businesses, but making them more ‘business-like’.
Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland
The changes within health and social care are impacting on voluntary sector care providers in Scotland. Organisations are facing new challenges to delivering quality services that reflect their organisational values in a sustainable way. CCPS wanted to create a space where their members could discuss and reflect on these challenges. The CCPS, Providers and Personalisation (P&P) Programme, which supports voluntary sector support providers with preparing for self-directed support asked Wren and Greyhound to run three, practical workshops to support providers with planning for long term sustainability by using the Lasting Difference sustainability toolkit. Over 75 providers from across Scotland attended these workshops and benefited from the in-depth training on the Lasting Difference resource.
Corra Foundation, Administrators for the Scottish Government’s CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund
As part of the CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund, Corra Foundation* designed and delivered a support programme for more than 100 CYPFEIF & ALEC funded organisations throughout 2016/17. This included developing a range of activities with partners to support chief executives and senior managers from funded organisations to increase skills and knowledge, as well as build relationships and networks with other individuals from across the CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund.
To contribute to this support programme, Wren and Greyhound were asked to introduce the Lasting Difference toolkit as part of the first annual Fund conference. The Foundation’s CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund team had identified that sustainability was a key area where funded organisations would benefit from support. The team also thought the Lasting Difference would be a really useful tool for these organisations they work with, and appreciated the fact that this it was both practical and free to use. Following the conference Wren and Greyhound was asked to deliver two subsequent workshops based on the different elements of sustainability in the resource, going into more detail and supporting organisations in more depth.
The Lasting Difference is great free tool for the third sector and it’s something that we can easily use with funded organisations and projects. We like the range of information in the resource and that it is has a structure for organisations to work through: the self-assessment encourages reflection; the action plan helps to plan activity; and the exit strategy helps think about the sustainability of the work beyond the funding period. The challenging questions and considerations throughout the resource really help organisations reflect, plan and take action. The resource covers a lot of key information about sustainability, but it is straightforward and easy to understand and use. In their recent annual reports, several funded organisations specifically mentioned how useful they found the Lasting Difference inputs at the conference and the workshops, and that they have used this in their own organisation. This includes developing strategic plans and working with boards and staff teams.
(*previously known as Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland)
Early Years Scotland: Children Affected by Parental Imprisonment
The Early Years Scotland (EYS) team worked with Wren and Greyhound to plan an event to support the sustainability of the Children Affected by Parental Imprisonment programme. Using our tried and tested workshop template provided a cost-effective option that they could use flexibly with their stakeholder group and adapt as required.
What we did
After a short planning session with Graeme, the team were confident that the material was accessible and straightforward enough for them to use without further input. The workshop material allowed them to explore the importance of sustainability and to showcase the real-life stories and narratives which would help engage their stakeholders at the event. It would give them a structure to achieve their stated aims. The aims were to:
- Celebrate the success of the last four years of EYS’ work with Children Affected by Parental Imprisonment across Scotland.
- Share information about the Children Affected by Parental Imprisonment programme with a range of stakeholders who work to support children and families.
- Work together to develop new ideas for the development of the programme, based on attendees’ wealth of experience working with families and children affected by parental imprisonment.
- Consider other potential funding sources to ensure that the programme can continue beyond the Big Lottery funding which is due to end in March 2019.
The event design
The event opened with a welcome from Jean Carwood-Edwards, CEO of Early Years Scotland, inviting guests to celebrate the work of Early Years Scotland in prison settings. This was followed by an ice-breaker, enabling the table groups to get to know each other and start the conversation flowing.
A range of presentations then highlighted the impact of the programme from different stakeholder perspectives:
- The EYS Service Manager gave an overview of the development of the Children Affected by Parental Imprisonment programme, the programme reach and some of the feedback from those who had taken part.
- Dr Christine Stephen, Honorary Research Fellow: University of Stirling shared the findings of her evaluative research, highlighting the evidence supporting the programme as likely to be effective at improving fathers’ engagement.
- The Operations Manager from the Scottish Prison Service shared his experience of hosting the programme in HMP Low Moss and some of the very positive changes he had witnessed in prisoners who had taken part.
- Early Years Scotland Practitioners shared case studies and moving stories of how the programme had helped parents reconnect with their children and improve their family bonds.
After a break for refreshments, the second half of the event hosted a discussion on the sustainability of the programme.
This provided an opportunity for those working in the field to exchange ideas and best practice on how the Children Affected by Imprisonment programme was working well and how it can be developed to ensure future sustainability and funding.
The event was really well received by participants. Comments received on the day (see below) demonstrated that the team had deepened their engagement with stakeholders and opened up new considerations for partnership working. Several participants commented that they were going to signpost EYS to potential funders. Others had increased recognition of the importance of impact measurement.
As well as an opportunity to celebrate their successes, the event provided the team with a clearer focus to move forward to a more sustainable future.
As a result of this positive feedback EYS has decided to replicate this model (Horizon Planning Seminars) for other areas of their work.
Participant feedback following the event:
‘Thanks to EYS for making my job more amazing and allowing me to establish a far better bond with both prisoners and families.’
‘Personal accounts from (practitioners) were particularly powerful – thank you.’
‘Enjoyed hearing more about EYS and linking with other prisons.’
‘(I will) continue to work in partnership with EYS to maintain positive relations.’
‘The whole event was informative and the balance between listening and participating was excellent.’
Commitments participants made:
‘(I) will ask Head of Offender Outcomes of possibility of EYS coming to (our prison).’
‘(I) will continue to support the mothers and fathers’ programmes when possible within our establishment’.
‘(I’ll be) promoting programmes to the prisons that I am connected to and raise awareness in the local communities.’
‘(I will) look to identify funding opportunities that I can forward to EYS.’
‘(I will) advocate to our stakeholder community the work of EYS and the benefits it delivers.’
‘(I will be) dedicating more time in gaining feedback and reaching out to offenders who may be reluctant to participating in these programmes.’
‘(I’ll be) promoting this work to management – could fit in and work jointly with (our organisation).’
Cerebral Palsy Scotland, Virginia Anderson, Head of Fundraising
Virginia came across the Lasting Difference resource at a Wren & Greyhound event at The Gathering 2017. The honest approach to sustainability really resonated with her and she thought the resource was structured in a really useful way for voluntary organisations.
I came across Graeme and the Lasting Difference resource when he delivered presentations at two conferences I attended. I really liked his honest and challenging approach to sustainability. I took lot of ideas away from both these events.
I have used the Lasting Difference with my team. We have a development day each year where we plan our ‘call to action’ and develop our organisational toolkit – this includes getting clear on our purpose, what we do, where we ‘fit’ in terms of policy, why what we do is important and so on. We used the headings in the resource – the 8 ‘Ps’ – and the prompt statements to help us think about what we were doing well and to identify the areas that needed development in the coming year.
I like the structure. It helps you consider all the different elements of sustainability. It helps you to review and plan in a way that keeps you focussed on what you are doing and why, rather than just chasing pots of money. I think it bridges the gap between what organisations are doing and what funders are looking for in terms of sustainable impact. I found the resource so useful that I have also passed it on to other organisations.
Dundee Carers Centre, Meg Marr, Team Manager (Independent Living Services)
I manage three teams, and for some of them we are entering into the final stage of funding so it made sense to bring them together to look at the sustainability toolkit. The topic headings were a good fit with the areas we had identified for review in our work plan (e.g. stakeholder mapping, accessible communication, how to reach our demographic and improving how we measure the difference that the support we provide makes), so it was just right for us.
Although people can be averse to taking time out of their roles when they are so busy, the toolkit was actually very relevant to their jobs – they could relate to it and see how it benefited them and the people whom they support. The sessions we ran led to modest ‘quick wins’, like reorganising the way we use computers to help the team manage its work and ensure a more accessible service for people accessing support. Overall the toolkit has facilitated team building across the three teams. Pivotally, it has also enabled us to change the perception that project management is complex or only for managers – the teams realise we’ve all got a role to play, including the people who use our services, in planning and reviewing support, which makes things better for everyone.